Spanning forty years, this collection of essays represents the
work of a renowned teacher and scholar of the ancient Greek world.
Martin Ostwald's contribution is both philological and historical:
the thread that runs through all of the essays is his precise
explanation, for a modern audience, of some crucial terms by which
the ancient Greeks saw and lived their lives-and influenced ours.
Chosen and sequenced by Ostwald, the essays demonstrate his
methodology and elucidate essential aspects of ancient Greek
The first section plumbs the social and political terms in which
the Greeks understood their lives. It examines their notion of the
relation of the citizen to his community; how they conceived
different kinds of political structure; what role ideology played
in public life; and how differently their most powerful thinkers
viewed issues of war and peace. The second section is devoted to
the problem, first articulated by the Greeks, of the extent to
which human life is dominated by nature (physis) and human
convention (nomos), a question that remains a central concern in
modern societies, even if in different guises. The third section
focuses on democracy in Athens. It confronts questions of the
nature of democratic rule, of financing public enterprises, of the
accountability of public officials, of the conflict raised by
imperial control and democratic rule, of the coexistence of
"conservative" and "liberal" trends in a democratic regime, and of
the relation between rhetoric and power in a democracy. The final
section is a sketch of the principles on which the two greatest
Greek historians, Herodotus and Thucydides, constructed their
outlooks on human affairs.
Ultimately, the collection intends to make selected key concepts in
ancient Greek social and political culture accessible to a lay
audience. It also shows how the differences-rather than the
similarities-between the ancient Greeks and us can contribute to a
deeper understanding of our own time.
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